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Fewer people are buying houses in outstate Minnesota this year, though the decline is not as steep as in the Twin Cities and is happening for different reasons.

Last month, there were 7,003 home sales across the state, 3.9 percent fewer than last year, according to new data from the Minnesota Association of Realtors (MAR). The median price of those closings was $179,900, a 5.9 percent increase from 2013.

Year-to-date closings were down 5.9 percent, below the 8 percent decline in the 13-county metro area reported by the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors.

The metro-area decline is shaped by a reduction in the number of foreclosed and heavily discounted houses that attracted investors rather than people intending to live in them.

Sales of foreclosures accounted for nearly half of transactions in the Twin Cities during the peak of the housing crisis that began in 2008. Last month, they represented just 9.4 percent of all closings.

"We have many fewer investors in greater Minnesota, so the highs are higher and lows are lower in the metro," said Chris Galler, the MAR's chief executive.

Friday's MAR report highlights other differences between the state's urban and rural markets.

In small towns, resort communities and vast swaths of woods and farmland across the state, lower crop prices have made many farmers reluctant to trade up to a bigger house or buy a place at the lake. For second-home buyers from the Twin Cities, getting a mortgage for that lake place, or hunting getaway is still far more difficult than it was before the downturn. In towns where the economy isn't as strong, there's a shortage of qualified buyers.

"We're not setting any records," Galler said. "But it's not a weak market either."

The MAR data tracks home sales, including seasonal and recreational properties, but doesn't include raw hunting or agricultural land. And the report only includes transactions of a licensed real estate agent who belongs to a multiple-listing service. Nonmembers don't get sales reported.

In the Rochester area, there's been considerable real estate speculation and a shortage of housing for the growing number of medical workers. In the Brainerd area, a bustling tourist trade and a relatively diverse jobs base has helped the market grow.

In the Alexandria area, which is dotted with popular lakes and several bustling towns that are less than 90 miles to the Twin Cities, the market has been strong. According to data from the Greater Alexandria Area Association of Realtors, there was a 39 percent increase in home sales last month compared with last year (122 vs. 88), according to Craig Mische, broker and owner of Counselor Realty in Alexandria. That includes lakefront and non-lakefront homes. The median price of those sales actually declined 3 percent to $145,000.

Mische said that lakeshore sales have been on par with last year because sellers haven't been aggressive about pricing their properties too high and low mortgage rates are attracting buyers. He's seeing an increase in buyers nearing retirement, and shoppers from North Dakota.

"A possible canary in the coal mine is that some lake properties with longer listing periods have found buyers recently," he said.

Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376